As I mentioned briefly already, my friend Jack invited me to drive to Green Bay with him yesterday to take in a Packer game. Even though I've lived in Wisconsin for not too far short of half my life (from age 7 to 18 and 43 to 54), I'd never been to one before.
It must be some version that "too local" phenomenon: I also went to photography school almost literally next door to the White House and never went on a tour. You'd think it would be easy, but there is always a line, and when you live there it also always seems like it would be just as easy to go some other time.
Coming into Lambeau for the first time is a memorable, wondrous experience.
The equivalent of the White House line is the difficulty of getting tickets to Lambeau, which will apparently be sold out as long as this region of the world remains populated.
To begin with the overwhelmingly obvious photographic lesson: some things just cannot be photographed. The immediacy of the experience, the totality of the sensations, and, especially, the qualities of the place itself just can't be reduced meaningfully to little rectangles of colors. Edvard Munch said that photography can never record heaven*.
And you can't photograph The Wave. (Jack said that.)
A 300% unsharpened detail from the picture above, to show how badly body-integral image stabilization degrades the image. I mean, I can't even read the logo on his sleeve, or read the time on his watch.
I took only a 4 GB card and didn't quite fill it up (and the gigabytes go by fast with the 24MP Sony on RAW+JPEG). But this morning, I'm impressed by the feeling that my pictures, taken to provide mementos more than anything, might even detract from my memory of the experience. The big things just aren't there in the pictures; the pictures of the little things are the only ones that work.
If you get to take in only one game at Lambeau, this one was the perfect one. Great company, great seats, an ideal day—clear and cool, with that bright slanting northern sunlight—and a game with almost no penalties and at least four really cool plays. And the Packers plastered the opposition**.
Nobody enjoys a blowout except the home team, as the old saying goes.
The final score was 49-23. If there is any doubt in any football fans' minds that Aaron Rodgers is quickly ascending to a place in the Packer firmament, put those doubts to rest. Up till now, a certain half played long ago by John Elway of yesterday's visiting team was the most transcendent performance by a quarterback I'd seen, but Rodgers came close to that standard for a whole game. He was a one-man Bronco-buster, throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for two more, the first time that particular trick has ever been pulled off in the whole history of the National Football League. Wonderful to witness.
A few observations: The players aren't big. They're tiny. And they don't make any noise like they do on TV—no grunts or audibles or the smacking of shoulder pads against shoulder pads. The crowd and the nearly incomprehensible announcers make all the noise.
And you've got to pay attention. I was astounded by how much harder it is to watch a game in person than it is on TV. TV does all the work for you, and it encourages really bad habits by comparison to reality: when I watch a football game on TV, I can even listen from another room and return to the set for the replay whenever I hear the crowd roar. I hope you won't think I'm completely barmy when I mention this, but at one point I caught myself staring very absent-mindedly but very intently at the field after a particularly intricate play, and I realized to my amusement that my brain in its infinite rut was waiting for reality to replay itself. Made me laugh.
Reminds me of something that happened a long time ago. A gallerist named David Adamson had donated six first-generation Macintosh computers to the Corcoran School of Art in 1984 to teach a computer graphics class, which I took. I spent the class using MacWrite rather than MacDraw. I'd gotten used to the then-new-to-me mouse and cursor, when one day, at home, writing a letter in longhand, I found myself staring (again very absent-mindedly) at the paper: I was sitting there holding the pencil touching the paper between two words I'd already written. Why? I was waiting for the cursor to appear so I could insert an adjective. D'oh!***
By the way, the Green Bay fans are really knowledgable. I thought I knew how to follow a football game, but the crowd is really right on top of what's happening. The four people to our left had paid two grand for their seats—and they left before the game was over! The friendly couple I was sitting next to were Steve and his pretty wife Heather; he's a plastics manufacturer from Monroe who sold the company he started but still works there. He told me he's played golf three times with Aaron Rodgers. In his youth Steve tried three times to make it through Q School****. I have big respect for people who take a shot at their dreams like that; not always easy.
While we were talking, I completely missed a Broncos touchdown.
Jack, who was a TOP reader long before we met in person, is a personable, smart guy with a sense of humor. He's also the ideal guide for a trip to Lambeau—we deconstructed Leica on the drive, amongst many other topics photographic, and he's very savvy about how to negotiate the ballpark—knows just where to park to make a clean getaway, and all that. Thanks again, Jack.
Anyway, I'll try to resist going on forever about this. I had a great time. The overarching lesson: one experience of any class of desirable thing is infinitely better than none.
Me photographing the flyover, by Jack.
If you ever get a chance to see a game at the famous Frozen Tundra, don't pass it up.
*Actually he said photography can never depict heaven or hell, but I'd argue with the hell part.
**But then, the Detroit Lions are also 4-0, which I believe is a Sign of the Apocalypse.
***I'd never be a writer if it weren't for computers. Just thought I'd mention that.
****Qualifying School for the PGA Tour, memorably chronicled in John Feinstein's book Tales from Q School: Inside Golf's Fifth Major.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jon Porter: "Thanks for a unique perspective on the game. I watched yesterday's blow-out in the Appleton Best Western. I think the Broncos stayed at the posher Paper Valley Hotel downtown, as earlier in the day there were fancy buses, flashing police cars and what looked like football fans crowded outside the entrance. Around halftime I went to dinner and the streets of Appleton were as close to deserted as I've ever seen them, as was the local Applebee's. Game day attire for women in town seemed to be #12 Packer jerseys. I guess it goes without saying that Aaron Rodgers is Wisconsin's Most Eligible Bachelor!"
Featured Comment by John: "I can relate to your instant replay and mouse experiences—in the last year or so I've taken to reading books almost exclusively on my iPad—I've probably consumed close to 40 novels. Twice recently I found myself reading a traditional paper book or magazine and, without thinking, and swiped my finger across the page (iPad users are familiar with the motion) expecting it to turn crisply and allow me to continue reading. To my credit, I don't think I gave it a second swipe on either occasion, but it did take me a just a moment to realize it wasn't going to respond and why....
Featured Comment by Ted: "Last year, at age 52, I finally made it to my first ever Red Sox game at Boston's Fenway Park. I discovered the exact same things you did—taking photos of the game was fun, but it detracted from the experience of watching the game much more than I thought it would. But what a great time I had! Too bad the Sox fell apart this year. By the way, your photos of the Packers game are much better than mine."
Mike replies: Thanks Ted! I was feeling mighty rusty. I have enjoyed the advantage of several periods of time in which I had nothing to do in my life but shoot, and that kind of concentration has its rewards. It does come back. I was sort of "half" in working mode, because I knew I'd need some shots to post here. However I thought Jack's shots of the day were better than my batch, all things considered, so I know the feeling.
Featured Comment by Ken Rahaim: "It's an interesting point you make about the act of photography detracting from the experience. I've experienced this feeling enough times now that I specifically and consciously make the decision not to shoot, but rather to just absorb the experience and let it wash over me. When my 'eye is on' (as my mentor used to say) the world gets reduced to choices of 3:2 aspect ratio compositions to the exclusion of pretty much everything else; most notably, it seems for me, sound.
"My wife and friend were very surprised when I didn't bring my SLR with me to Monza to watch Sebastien Vettel win his very first Formula 1 race driving for Red Bull junior team Toro Rossa. Instead, I can still recall the visceral scream of the F1 rockets approaching Parabolica; the damp, wet conditions which Vettel drove in so masterfully; and the history which permeates a place like Monza. Yeah, sure, I would've noticed those things even if I had been shooting. But I didn't want to just 'notice' them. I really wanted to absorb them and me, I just can't do that if I'm seriously trying to shoot."
Mike replies: The better you are, the harder it is to divide your concentration and not "work at peak" so to speak. To really "work" a football stadium, with your "eye on" as you put it, I imagine a photographer would probably have to go to three games (if not ten) and have the run of the place, and of course you wouldn't be very aware of any of the actual games. The opposite of working at peak with your eye on is what I've long called "being a tourist." I was just a tourist at this one. As I am in almost every instance when I do any appreciable amount of shooting. And a lot of shooters don't have the patience to work when they can only have half their cylinders firing. It makes sense to me that you'd make the choice to concentrate on experiencing the race at Monza rather than just be a tourist with your camera.